Glenn McGrath (OAM) had the talent and consistency to become one of the most economical and dangerous fast bowlers of his time. No stranger to hard work or doing whatever it takes to succeed at the highest levels of your career, McGrath will be addressing attendees of Ideas Exchange on 12 and 15 May this year. He currently coaches talented young cricketing hopefuls in Chennai, India,to achieve peak performance. From there he spoke exclusively to Elite Agent Editor Samantha McLean.
Many parallels have been drawn between the world of elite athletes and successful business people, centred around the themes of consistency, visualisation, mindset and peak performance. Given Glenn McGrath’s achievements both on and off the cricketing field, I figure that goal-setting is a good place to start.
I ask McGrath if playing Test cricket was always a goal for him. “I don’t know if I ever had a goal of playing cricket for Australia when I was growing up in the bush,” he says, “but I had a real passion for it and just loved getting out there and playing. I guess when I was younger some people thought I couldn’t bowl; even when I was in the Under 16s I didn’t get much of a chance because our captain thought I wasn’t good enough to bowl in the team. It wasn’t until he got a bit older that I got more of an opportunity. I didn’t play my first representative game of cricket until I was 17, so was a bit of a late starter in that respect. By the time I was 18 I only played Saturday afternoons in the bush and trained once a week.
“It was a big decision to move to Sydney, but once I had made that decision I was pretty focused on what I wanted to achieve when I got there and how I was going to go about it. At that point, my goal became to play for Australia. In 1992 I attended the Australian Institute of Sport, and there you eat, breathe and live cricket 24/7. It showed me what sort of commitment I needed to make and what I had to do to become a successful first class, and then international, cricketer. It was a big turning point for me, and four years after moving to Sydney, I was playing cricket for Australia.”
It wasn’t long until there were a few setbacks on the road to greatness. Recalls McGrath, “In my first game for NSW I played pretty well, took a five-wicket haul and then ended up with an injury at the end of that match. It was pretty tough. I remember sitting on the bench thinking that I had to do whatever it took to get back on the field as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s these little setbacks that make you think, appreciate things a bit more and are designed to make you work a little harder.
“So I got back on the field, played half a dozen games and before I knew it was preparing for my first test match. I sustained another injury in 1995 after we came back from the West Indies, just as I had ‘cemented’ my place in the team. It was an injury down my left side, which is where, as a fast bowler, you get all of your power from. At the end of that tour I weighed 77kgs and was injured again. I thought, if I don’t do something differently to what I’ve been doing then I’m not going to have any longevity in the game. I realised I had to get stronger and tougher. I went out and asked around, and found a guy by the name of Kevin Chevell who is classed as one of the toughest trainers out there. I started working with him; his attitude was to train so much harder than anything any of us had experienced before. And his training matched his reputation.
The amount I’ve learned about fast bowling since I retired – I wish I’d known when I played! We can never know too much, but it’s just that attitude to get out there, to give things a try, to do the best, to do whatever it takes.
“I realised that I had to look at different and better ways of doing things if I wanted to stay at the top. I was prepared to do whatever it took. I think making that decision and going out and tracking down a trainer who is classed as one of the best, one of the toughest, and having the right people around me, was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I worked with Kevin my whole career and I can easily thank him for a lot of my success. Sometimes we think we can do everything by ourselves, but that’s not what it’s about; it’s about having the right people around you, having a good team.”
I had read somewhere before our chat that McGrath is a believer in visualisation, as in visualising the perfect ball, and also the fact that he had ‘never had a bad dream about cricket’. I ask him about this and he laughs. “Yes, I guess you call it positive reinforcement. I call it ‘preparing for success’. I always visualised bowling good deliveries and taking wickets, and I would watch video footage of myself taking good wickets. It’s as much a confidence thing as anything else: positive reinforcement, dreaming about it and how you want to go about it. Even during the game, at the top of my my mark, I’ve already visualised what ball I want to bowl, where I see it landing and what I see it doing, so it’s already locked in. I think that this sort of positive reinforcement or visualisation is one of the key factors that set me up for success this far.
“Preparation is key. I always made sure that I prepared as well as I could. Trained as well as I could, fitness work, more work in the gym, so that when I walked out on the field I knew I had prepared as well as I could. Then I could focus on exactly what I was looking to achieve in the field. Part of that was that visualisation, but it’s a whole package, really. If you are prepared for success then you are well on your way.”
Consistency is key
One of the nicknames that McGrath picked up during his career was the ‘The Metronome’. A metronome is the incredibly steady tick-tock that keeps musicians strictly in time. In an era where most fast bowlers looked to dominate their opponents through pace and more flashy tactics, McGrath was well known for the type of consistency that was, to a batsman, like drops of sweat hitting the brow one after the other until a mistake was made, usually with the same ending back in the dressing room.
I ask McGrath if consistency will always win out over ‘flash’. He answers, “I didn’t bowl at 160km/hr like some of the others; I didn’t swing the ball a great deal, but I could land a ball pretty well and I’d get the bounce and a bit of seam and that was my strength. Even now when I talk to young bowlers, they want to know the secret to taking wickets. I tell them, ‘If you can bowl 99 balls out of a hundred where you want it, which is hitting the deck just outside of off stump, you’ll take wickets.’ To be honest, I’m not sure that’s what they want to hear because they think it’s going to be some secret formula! It’s a lot of practice and also visualisation, but it was all a feel thing for me too, and it’s just about doing, repeating things. They say practice makes perfect, but actually that’s not quite true; you can can practise the wrong way so you’re not going to get any better. It’s more ‘perfect practice’ makes perfect. That’s what I tried to do.
“I set myself very high standards, and always my goal was to play the perfect game. What I mean by that was that every ball I bowled went exactly where I wanted it to go. I think that was what I was always driving for, but I prepared as well as I could. I practised and put a lot of time in the nets bowling areas. My strength was accuracy. I talked to the best bowlers and best batsmen in the world. They said it was always tougher meeting someone bowling around that 135 km/h mark who had good consistency, good control and a bit of bounce, rather than someone bowling high 140s, 150s that really skidded on. That was my strength and I worked on it, tried to hone it down and make that as consistent as I possibly could. So a lot of time in the nets, yes.”
Big games and big pressure situations can cause even the bravest of us to break. I ask McGrath how he used to handle pressure in the case of a crucial match situation, knowing that the crowd plus millions on TV in Australia and around the world were watching. “Well, that’s one of the reasons I played the game. I liked to test myself to see how good I really was. Pressure to me is something that only comes from within; nobody can put pressure on me except for myself. A lot of the preparation, having ‘been there and done that’ before, always backing yourself and having that self-belief, they all come into play. In those big moments, I loved it. That’s why you play; how you go against the best batsmen in the world, how you cope in those pressure situations. It’s probably what I miss more than anything now.
“Well, that’s one of the reasons I played the game. I liked to test myself to see how good I really was. Pressure to me is something that only comes from within; nobody can put pressure on me except for myself.
“If you’ve prepared as well as you can and back yourself on the action you take and it works, great; if not, then you know next time what not to do! It’s all about experience as well. They say you can’t find experience on a shelf, nor should you be able to. It’s all these factors that go into it, but just really enjoying those moments, because that’s why we play. That’s where you see just how good you are.”
Physical strength versus mental strength
So, physical strength or mental strength: which is more important for success? “It definitely has to be a combination of the two. You need to have the physical strength to play day in, day out, game after game. I’ve always said skill will take you so far; it’s attitude that will take you the rest of the way, and I believe that. But mental strength will tell if you’re going to be a good cricketer, a good sportsman, good businessman, real estate agent, or a great cricketer, sportsman, businessman, real estate agent. Attitude is what makes a difference in that mental strength.
“Part of my training with Kevin, as tough as it was – and the physical training was very tough – was as much mental training. They go hand in hand, but attitude is what’s going to stand you out from the rest of the bunch.”
Whatever it takes
McGrath spends a lot of time coaching young cricketers now. I ask what skills and strengths he looks for in young talent; who are the ones who will make it to the top as he did? “They need the skill level, there’s no doubt about that. They have to have the physical strength, but it’s always attitude to me that stands out. Just the way they go about their business and what they’re prepared to do. I remember when I first started training with Kevin, he asked me what was I prepared to do to achieve what I wanted. My response was, ‘Whatever it takes.’ He said from that response, he took me on.”
“I guess that’s what you look for in the young guys as well: that attitude to learning as much as possible. The amount I’ve learned about fast bowling since I retired – I wish I’d known when I played! We can never know too much, but it’s just that attitude to get out there, to give things a try, to do the best, to do whatever it takes. Attitude and skill, and being prepared to give everything and do your very best to succeed.”
We all want to know what McGrath considers the most memorable moment in his career. Again you can hear the smile, “It’s tough to narrow it down to one,” he says, “There were so many individual high moments, and there were so many team moments. I was involved in an era of Australian cricket that was so strong, it was brilliant. Every time you walked on the field you looked beside you: the calibre of the players I got to play with was pretty amazing. To be involved in that team; to win in the West Indies for the first time in a long time. In India, the first time in a long time to play in three and win three, to win three World Cup finals, they’re all pretty big things. Individually, to take my first test wicket, to score 61 with the bat (laughs), and taking my 500th test wicket at Lords was very special. So it’s hard to narrow it down to one.”
What sort of things does he hope to be sharing with the Ideas Exchange audience this year? “Well, I’m looking forward to it, and in addition to my topics of peak performance I hope to share a few stories about some old teammates and a few other things that have happened, so hopefully it’ll be enjoyable! (laughs). Seriously, I guess there are a lot of things that helped me through my career. How I went about things including planning, preparation, being match aware. What to do and how to adjust when the plan you have doesn’t work. Plus some other things that have been useful to me in my career. Preparing for success, I think, is always a good thing. Enjoying pressure, enjoying the big moments, because at the end of the day, if you really want to make it big and really want to be successful, you’ve got to enjoy those moments and do well under pressure. And also having no regrets.”
Glenn McGrath still holds the world record for highest number of test wickets by a fast bowler, and the record for the most wickets in the cricket World Cup. As well as ongoing duties as Chairman of the McGrath Foundation, which he founded with his wife Jane in 2008, he is now the Director of the MRF Pace Foundation, taking over the position from fellow fast bowling great Dennis Lillee, selecting, nurturing and scientifically developing the cricketing skills of youngsters with promise. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 2008 for his service to cricket as a player and for service to the community through the establishment of the McGrath Foundation.
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